Top Tips for Sleepy Shift Workers

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Here are a few general tips for getting better sleep if you are a shift worker – some of which you may already have tried or be doing regularly.  One size does not fit all so we’d encourage you to try everything until you find a combination of things that improve your sleep.

  1. The best time to sleep is as soon as possible after your night shift rather than stay awake - if you delay sleep your body will warm up and prepare for the day's activity.
  2. Develop a mini sleep routine that you use whatever time of day you are able to sleep. For example, you always have a warm shower or enjoy a warm milky drink, or read (or all of the above). Tailor this to what works for you.
  3. Use black out curtains or an eye mask whenever you sleep so you start to associate an eye mask with sleep.
  4. Make sure you are warm when you do get into bed as this will help you to fall asleep easier. Include a warm shower or bath as part of your bedtime routine. Natural bedding will help you regulate your body temperature more effectively. Examples are tencel and wool filled duvet inners, and mattress underlays (protectors).  They help to keep your body temperature constant, so you sleep better when you eventually get into bed.
  5. Ideally have one block of sleep after a shift but if you can't try at least 2 blocks of 3 hours before your next sleep. However, it is important how you time these sleeps. If you are experiencing great difficulties, it is worth speaking to a sleep trained professional who will be able to guide you further here and develop a plan specifically for you.
  6. If you struggle to fall asleep after your shift, try some natural tart cherry juice to catch up on lost sleep. Tart Cherry juice is rich in natural melatonin and will help you fall asleep naturally. However it should be used with caution and only when you know you will not have to wake up somewhere and drive/be alert shortly after taking it. Generally it is recommended only to take melatonin in the evenings. If you take too much of it and then attend a sleep clinic (to address chronic sleep issues) it may also mask what is really going on so try this cautiously and in moderation if you think it will work for you
  7. Minimise interruptions from phone, doorbells etc - use ear plugs or disconnect /turn volume down so any day time sleep is not disturbed.
  8. Try some affirmations and train your brain to sleep during the day (e.g. I will fall asleep during the day and sleep well, only waking up at X time.).  Adapt this to what works for you - our brains are very powerful organs and can have a major impact on our sleep.
  9. Explore options to change your roster or ensure it is rotating forwards rather than backwards so a day shift is followed by a night shift, and ensure you are getting some rest within your shift and also between your shifts
  10. Try to ensure you are eating healthily and getting some gentle exercise when you are awake as this will help. Avoid alcohol, nicotine or other stimulants as any benefits will be short lived and can actually exacerbate the problem.
  11. Eat more carbohydrate during your night shift (rather than protein as this is harder to digest).
  12. If you are really struggling a power nap of no more than 20 minutes can make a big difference if you can ensure someone will wake you so you don't sleep through an alarm or longer than you intend to.